Tony Walton, a production designer who brought broad visual imagination to creating distinct stage looks for Broadway shows for half a century, which won him three Tony Awards, died Wednesday at his Manhattan home . He was 87 years old.
His daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, whose mother is Julie Andrews, said the cause was complications from a stroke.
In more than 50 Broadway productions, Mr. Walton has collaborated on set (and sometimes costume) design with directors like Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse and Jerry Zaks, winning Tonys for ‘Pippin’, ‘The House of Blue Leaves” and “Guys and Dolls.
He also worked in the cinema, where he shared the Oscar for the art and decoration of “All That Jazz” by M. Fosse (1979); years earlier, Mr. Walton designed the interior sets and costumes for “Mary Poppins” (1964), starring Mrs. Andrews, to whom he was then married.
Mr. Walton’s television work included “Death of Salesman” (1985), which starred Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid and John Malkovich, for which he won an Emmy.
Prior to the opening of his final Broadway show, “A Tale of Two Cities,” in 2008, Mr. Walton described his design process for a production.
“These days I try to read the script or listen to the score like it’s a radio show and not allow myself to have a rush of imagery,” said he told Playbill. “Then, after meeting the director – and, if I’m lucky, the writer – and whatever their input, I try to imagine what I see as slowly being revealed by a pool from light.”
Donald Albrecht, curator of an exhibit of Mr. Walton’s theater and film works at the Museum of the Moving Image in 1989, told The New York Times in 1992, “He never puts a Walton style on the material. It comes from within work.
Mr. Walton has worked with Mr. Zaks on numerous Broadway shows, including “Guys and Dolls,” a cover of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and “Anything Goes.”
“I started directing because I liked working with actors,” Mr. Zaks said in a phone interview. “I had no idea what a set could do for a production. Tony pushed me to visualize the different possibilities that could be used to create a set.
For the 1986 revival of John Guare’s “The House of Blue Leaves,” about a family in Sunnyside, Queens, on the day Pope Paul VI visited New York in 1965, Mr. Zaks recalled this which Mr. Guare had written in the actor’s edition of the play.
“He called Manhattan Oz for people who lived in Queens,” Mr. Zaks said, “and from there he came up with a setting that always had Manhattan in the distance.”
In his New York Times review, Frank Rich described the impact of Mr. Walton’s setting as a “Stuart Davis-like collage in which the vulgar domestic misery of the Shaughnessys is hemmed in by the oppressive trademark signs of the cityscape”.
Four years later, Mr. Zaks added, “I said, ‘Tony, we could do ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ with two couches and a Kandinsky.” He said, “Trust me, believe it,” and he made me a better director. »
The two-faced Kandinsky hung above the two red sofas on stage in Mr. Guare’s room, over a mysterious young black crook.
Anthony John Walton was born on October 24, 1934 in Walton-on-Thames, England. His father, Lancelot, was an orthopedic surgeon. His mother, Hilda (Drew) Walton was a homemaker.
He traced his love of theater to a night in World War II when he was 5 or 6 years old. His parents had just seen the musical “Me and My Girl,” he said in the Playbill interview, and “they had paper hats and little mermaids.” – and had obviously had a few bubbles to cheer them on along the way – and they woke my sister and me up and taught us ‘The Lambeth Walk’.
His interest in theater blossomed at Radley College, Oxfordshire, where he acted, directed and staged puppet shows. After serving in the Royal Air Force in Canada, he studied art and design at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. There he was a part-time actor and stagehand at the Wimbledon Theatre.
After graduating in 1955, he moved to Manhattan where he got a job drawing cartoons for Playbill. His first major theatrical project in the United States was an Off Broadway revival of the Noël Coward musical, “Conversation Piece” in 1957.
Four years later, after traveling to London where he designed productions for various shows, he was hired for his first Broadway play, “Once There Was a Russian”, set in the Crimea of Eighteenth century. it closed on opening night.
His next show, the original production of “A Funny Thing”, ran for over two years and used his idea to project various images of the sky onto a curved screen across the stage.
For the next 47 years, it swung between musicals, comedies and dramas like a 1973 Broadway revival of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” For one of his stars, Lillian Gish, he had designed an aubergine-colored dress which she refused, telling him that “Russian peasants only wore beautiful pastel colors”, according to Ms Walton Hamilton. “He said, ‘Of course, Miss Gish,'” she said, then he had it dyed a darker shade with each subsequent cleaning.
In the 1990s he began conducting at the Irish Repertory Theater in Manhattan, the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, and the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York. that her daughter helped. found. While on Bay Street, he was also the production designer for a 2003 revival of “The Boy Friend”, which was Ms Andrews’ directorial debut.
Mr. Walton also illustrated the 12 children’s books on Dumpy the Dump Truck and “The Great American Musical”, which were written by Ms. Andrews and Ms. Walton Hamilton.
“Tony was my dearest and oldest friend,” Ms Andrews, who met Mr Walton when she was 12 and he was 13, said in a statement. “He taught me to see the world with fresh eyes, and his talent was nothing short of monumental.”
Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Geneviève LeRoy-Walton; his daughter-in-law, Bridget LeRoy; five grandchildren; his sisters, Jennifer Gosney and Carol Hall; and his brother Richard.
In 1989, Mr. Zaks recalled that he was unsure of the type of hotel for the setting of the “Lend Me a Tenor” farce. Mr. Walton designed one that had a Victorian style, then another, more convincing, with an Art Deco design.
“The beauty of the Art Deco sketch just blew me away,” he said, “and I knew right away that when things got wild on stage, when people started slamming doors in a beautiful piece of Art Deco architecture, that would be much funnier.”